Swiss citizenship For Members

EXPLAINED: What is the reference letter you might need for Swiss citizenship?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: What is the reference letter you might need for Swiss citizenship?
Being a yodeller will likely help you become Swiss. Photo by VALERIANO DI DOMENICO / AFP)

When seeking Swiss naturalisation, you must provide certain documents. One of them is a reference letter.


Among the documents and procedures that are normally required for the application process is a character reference from people who know you well. 

Even if you fulfil all the criteria for either the ordinary or fast-track process — such as length of residence and language requirements — the authorities only ‘know’ you through the paperwork you submit.

That is why they meet you personally during the interview, but they also depend on the (hopefully objective) references from people who know you  — pretty much the same way as new employers rely on what your former bosses  say about you.

Do all cantons ask for the letters?

Some cantons in Switzerland will ask for the letter whilst some will simply need the names of the references, who they may contact.

One Geneva-based reader told The Local: "In Geneva, for instance, you do have to list five references, but the canton doesn't ask for letters after (they have the right to reach out to your references, but in my experience and those of many friends, that never seems to happen)".

How many references do you need to provide?

Usually between three and five.

The exact number depends on your canton’s requirements, as well as what kind of procedure you apply under.

Those eligible for fast-track naturalisation (for instance, spouses of Swiss citizens as well third-generation foreigners), will typically be asked to submit three references, while all the others will need five.

After you submit your application, you will be informed how many references you are expected to provide.

Who should you ask to attest to your character?

In a nutshell, people who have known you longest and with whom you are in frequent contact.

The only requirement is that they are Swiss nationals, though it doesn’t matter whether they are born and raised in Switzerland (in other words, citizens by birth), or whether they have been naturalised. As long as they have Swiss passports, they can be sources of references.

An important thing, however, is that these people should be ‘culled’ from different areas of your life — for instance, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbour — instead of all coming from just one group.


What should these letters contain?

The purpose of the references is not to sing you praises and tell what a nice person you are — or, at least, not just that.

Instead, they should focus on what is most important to Swiss authorities, that is, your integration, behaviour, and character.

Therefore, the letter should include information such as how long the person has known you and how you met; examples of specific acts that prove your worthiness to become Swiss — for example, of your helping out in neighbourhood events, involvement in various local causes; volunteering, and everything else that shows your willingness to be part of your community.

If, for instance, you are part of the local fire brigade, choir, school association, or play on a local football (soccer) team, all that counts in your favour.

So rather than merely saying ‘so and so is a nice person’, the references should be rich in detail and, needless to say, honest. 

READ ALSO:  When do the Swiss think a foreigner is successfully integrated?


How is this letter mailed?

In most cantons, authorities instruct to submit references by email, at the address provided for this purpose.

One elderly person who was not computer-savvy wrote the letter by hand and sent it the old-fashioned way — through the post.

In return, she received a letter from the authorities, written on recycled paper, advising the woman that she should avoid such correspondence in the future for environmental reasons.

The letter contained a pamphlet with dates of recycling courses in her community.

That’s Switzerland for you.

What if you don’t know three or five people well enough (or they don’t know you well enough) to ask for a reference?

In this case, you should probably abstain from applying for naturalisation in the first place.

Not being able to round up a few individuals for this purpose after years of living in the country doesn’t bode well for your citizenship chances.

It shows that you are not integrated enough to merit being Swiss.


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